If you are anything like me, the thought of stuffing my long liberated feet into ski boots feels like blasphemy. Last year, skiing in regular ski boots, my feet were numb, cramping and begging for freedom. Well, not this year.
I went deep into the world of barefoot options for skiers and how we can explore our hobbies without compromising on our footwear.
FYI... this is not worth trying...
So if you wear barefoot shoes and are heading to the mountains, this deep-dive guide is for you.
1. The objective...
tl;dr: look for ski boots that secure the heel and ankle. Secondly, boots made with an already wide fit, have a foot-shaped toe box and little tapering and toe spring.
Ski boots are your entire interface with your skis and are a crucial part of maximising control. We cannot have our feet sliding around in oversized ski boots when skiing. We need all of that force to be transferred into the skis. We do not want our feet and skis to be moving independently!
So the inconvenient truth is that a ski boot has to be stiff and it has to be snug, at least in some key areas.
Those key areas are the heel and the ankle. They need to be secured, giving us the ability to lean forward and apply pressure without our feet sliding upwards. It is this that allows us to steer our skis predictably.
In less important areas, we can look for boots with barefoot shoe features (a wide toe box, zero drop and no toe spring).
2. Modifying your existing (and new) ski boots
Snow gear is not cheap. So we should approach this from a cost-effective angle and use what we have before thinking about a new pair. Of course, if we find that any of these hacks work, we can apply them to any new pairs of ski boots we get in the future.
If you already own a pair of ski boots we can look to 'barefoot-ify' them to see if our feet like it and then go from there.
Your feet have gotten bigger and stronger since you started wearing zero drop shoes, so check how they fit. If they were snug, to begin with, they are probably even more now. Let's start with getting more volume into the boot for our feet.
It's possible to remove the inner part of most ski boots to see what is going on. Many boots will come with a standard footbed liner, often with in-built arch support. I removed this and replaced it with a thinner insole with a consistent width and no arch support.
This allows your foot to sit further back in the boot and for your sole to spread your weight out.
If the inner boot liner has a taper that causes pressure on the big and/or little toe, we can cut the liner to help give our toes better alignment.
3. Buying minimalist ski boots
If there is no hope for your previous pair of ski boots, there are important considerations and things we can look for when buying a new pair.
Ski boots are not cheap. I recommend looking for a 2nd hand pairs or waiting for a sale at the end of the season if possible.
<div class="heading-small">Buying New 💰</div>
<p>If you are buying new, check out our hacks for getting the best deal.</p>
Start with wide ski boot brands
Some brands use a wider last when making their boots, making them a great starting point for our search. We will explore some specific ski boot models later, but some wider ski boot brands to consider are:
Size up your ski boots
Since we want more volume and a wider ski boot, an obvious solution is to size up. A larger size ski boot fixed 90% of my issues.
I was careful to make sure that any boots I considered firmly secured my ankle and heel properly. Remember, that is where all of our control comes from.
People report using a combination of Achilles L pads and Metatarsal pads in their oversized to stop their foot is sliding forwards/upwards. I picked up a good quality pair on Amazon but I haven't needed to use them yet. I figure they are a great thing to keep in the ski bag.
Local > online
It is always better to try on any footwear in person and this is even more true when it comes to ski boots. Especially, as most people who work in an outfitter are incredibly knowledgeable with decades of experience. I'd recommend looking for outfitters that offer custom ski boot fitting and if you figure out where the local ski racers and pros go, you'll know you're in the right place.
Often, these shops are busy places and can feel a little pressured just by the buzz of the shop. Don't be intimidated. Take your time and be assertive about what does and doesn't fit.
Custom heat-moulded ski boots
When you purchase a quality ski boot, a good outfitter will be able to heat mould the inner liner and the outer shell to your foot.
For the outer plastic, they heat the shell in a convection oven until it becomes warm and malleable. You then stand in the boot until it cools down and sets to the shape of your foot. Similarly, the thermo-mouldable liners, heat it to help accelerate the breaking in of the liner.
A great hack is to wear a pair of toe spacers whilst doing this to gain the most space possible for your toes.
4. Best minimalist ski boots for barefoot shoe wearers
Apex has a reputation for being warm and comfortable. I tried these and can confirm that they are. The price was the main hesitation for me, but if the budget was not a problem, these would be my go-to for sure!
What the barefoot shoe community says...
I demo'd a pair of these last winter, they are an absolute game-changer in terms of comfort. And they perform very well too (my favourite boots to wear in over 2 decades of skiing). Might be able to find last year's model on sale if you shop around.
Apex XP Antero - It's a two-part boot system with a rigid outer chassis and an inner boot that is essentially a snowboard boot (but with a thinner sole). Before you knock it for being a hybrid system, let me just say that I'm a very aggressive skier with 26 years of experience who rides every part of the mountain, and I feel just as much security, precision, and control in these as I do in a traditional ski boot. And after getting the inner liners heat-moulded to my feet, they are vastly more comfortable than traditional boots. Much better toe box width, and when you unbuckle and step out of the rigid chassis they're much easier to walk in, too. Yes, they're pricy (I waited to get them on sale), but I have 0 regrets and would 100% recommend them.
Lange is known for great performance for skiers with wider feet, the Lange LX series has a relaxed out-of-the-box fit for comfortable all-day skiing.
The Atomic Hawx are pretty wide out of the box, but where they shine is how light they are out of the box. The reduced weight can help for getting that all-day comfort.
What the barefoot shoe community says...
I’ve had a lot of problems with my feet going numb/losing circulation while skiing. The solution for me was atomic hawk 130 with very well made footbeds and a lot of moulding/shaping by a boot fitter. Humans are built to run, but the force applied to feet skiing is much greater and I found that arch support helps keep my foot feeling comfortable all day. A wide toe box was a necessity though, even if it’s not peak performance.
The Nordica Cruise ski boots emphasize progressive thinking with their wide fit and soft shells. Their anatomical shape gives us barefooters a great ski boot whilst still maximizing control and responsiveness.
What the barefoot shoe community says...
Just recently had to buy ski boots. The widest possible made I could find were Nordica The Cruise 120. They are snug but I tried on a dozen different pairs and these were the best by far. I also have massive calves so being able to open them up at the back helped.
5. Taking care of your feet whilst skiing
Having the right gear and best fitting ski boots will do amazing things for your feet but that's not always possible. And even if it is, there are still things we can do to optimise our foot health and keep our feet healthy.
Post-skiing foot care routine
Only wear ski boots when you have too
Skiing, snowboarding, and other sports like climbing, require us to wear restrictive footwear to participate. With that in mind, we should aim to only wear them whilst doing that activity.
It's tempting to hit the après ski still wearing our ski boots. But even if our boots have a good fit, we should get them off as soon as possible.
Put on a pair of toe spacers
Slipping on a pair of toe spacers after a long day on the slopes feels AMAZING.
Toe spacers help re-align the toes stimulating blood flow in your entire foot. This boosts the foot's recovery from a hard day on the mountain and helps relax and soothe your feet. Increasingly, studies are revealing a lot of neck, back and knee pain starts in the feet.
Roll out your feet to release tension
After getting out of your ski boots and putting on your toe spacers, use an exercise ball (or lacrosse ball) to roll out the bottoms of the feet. This massages and releases the thick band of tissue running along the sole of your foot called Myofascial release and will help break up adhesions, release tension and reduce any pain you might have. Here's how:
- Sit comfortably with your feet on the floor.
- Place the lacrosse ball under the arch of your foot.
- Lean forward, putting weight on your affected side. Slowly roll the ball back and forth along the arch of your foot.
- Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Repeat on your other foot.
Wear barefoot shoes when you can
Given you are reading this article, it is almost certain you know the benefits of wearing barefoot shoes. Wearing them after skiing will only help your feet move naturally again.
<div class="heading-small">Looking for Barefoot Winter Boots 🥾</div>